JR (born 22 February 1983) is the name of a photographer and artist whose identity is unconfirmed. He has described himself as a "photograffeur", he flyposts large black-and-white photographic images in public locations in a manner which is similar to the appropriation of the built environment by the graffiti artist.
The Tate Modern Gallery in London has recently commissioned six internationally acclaimed artists to adorn its building’s iconic river façade: the artist collective Faile from New York, United States; Nunca and Os Gêmeos, both from São Paulo, Brazil; Blu from Bologna, Italy; Sixeart from Barcelona, Spain; and JR from Paris, France.
In 2007, JR shot portraits of Arabs and Jews, printed them on fifteen thousand square feet of paper, and pasted them throughout Israel and the West Bank. He called the project “Face2Face,” and he describes it as the world’s largest illegal photo exhibition. By working at such a scale, JR has captured the attention of dealers and museums, including the Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou, and he sells photos of his work for tens of thousands of dollars.
In “Women are Heroes,” French artist JR famously canvassed the Providencia favela in Rio de Janeiro with the eyes and portraits of women who had lost a loved one in violence with the police. But more than art, JR actively involves the community to add an architectural (and philanthropic) element to his work.
Guerilla street artist JR traveled to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Kenya, Brazil, India, and Cambodia to seek out women struggling in their everyday lives and, in his words, “to take their stories around the world.” Pasting mural-size portraits of his subjects into their own communities—on the sides of buildings, on trains, on bridges—he brings a haunting human presence to harsh environments of social conflict. His photographs of the vast outdoor “exhibitions” that he creates are iconic images celebrating the worth of the individual.
Sometimes the person pictured has an intimate relationship with the location; one woman he met had escaped a life sifting through rubbish in an acrid dump on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. She took him back there to show him it, and eventually allowed her photographed eyes to be pasted to the side of a rubbish truck, so that her gaze now looks out at the life she left behind. Other times, the choice is a simple response to an obvious need: the post-election violence that swept Kibera left many houses without roofs, so the team put up tarpaulin with the eyes of residents printed on them.
The material used is water resistant so that the photo itself will protect the fragile houses in the heavy rain season. The train that passes on this line through Kibera at least twice a day has also been covered with eyes from the women that live below it. With the eyes on the train, the bottom half of the their faces have be pasted on corrugated sheets on the slope that leads down from the tracks to the rooftops. The idea being that for the split second the train passes, their eyes will match their smiles and their faces will be complete.
He used to refer to himself as a photograffeur, which puts him somewhere between a photographer and a graffiti artist. His M.O. is to show up in a shantytown in Kenya or a favela in Brazil, a place where some event has been noted in the media and captured his attention, and turn it inside out, photographing the residents, then wrapping their buildings with the results, on a scale so vast that you can see their eyes from the sky.
Somewhat in the vein of the British artist Banksy, well known for his politically charged graffiti murals, JR will show up at slum, shantytown, or favela, often braving streets so mean that its children run around in bulletproof jackets. Once there, he enlists a crew of locals and erects enormous black-and-white photographic canvases on the walls, typically human faces or figures that lend a dignified air to a forgotten neighborhood.
His contemporary form of wheat-pasting photographic imagery, despite being monochromatic, is a throwback to the mural masters of Los Angeles whose works become an architectural reference point.
TED, the progressive California nonprofit that brings luminaries of technology, entertainment, and design together for the sake of world betterment, has made an unexpected choice for its seventh annual $100,000 TED Prize: JR, a 27-year-old street artist who, under a mysterious cloak of semi-anonymity, has been pasting monumental black-and-white photographs across the urban infrastructure of the world's poorest slums.